Update: the RSPB are reporting that the trial has been cancelled and have relayed the following comment from the Minister:
“In the light of the public concerns expressed in recent days, I have decided to look at developing new research proposals on buzzards.
“The success of conservation measures has seen large increases in the numbers of buzzards and other birds of prey over the last two decades. As Minister for Wildlife I celebrate that and since 2010 we have championed many new measures to benefit wildlife across England – set out in our England Biodiversity Strategy.
“At the same time it is right that we make decisions on the basis of sound evidence and we do need to understand better the whole relationship between raptors, game birds and other livestock. I will collaborate with all the organisations that have an interest in this issue and will bring forward new proposals.”
It would seem that the issue is not completely dead (unless he is just trying not tolose face), so we need to keep vigilant!
I am sure many of you have seen reports that DEFRA plans to control Buzzard numbers. If not the RSPB have covered it here with further information here. DEFRA has responded on its website, but that response does not really answer the central question: why? Instead it denies that it is proposing a cull, but initiating research to look at control methods. To me this misses the point entirely as that research is apparently costing the taxpayer some £400,000. At a time of severe cuts in Government spending this does not seem a good use of money. I am sure DEFRA has many other far more worthy projects that could benefit from such a sum.
Why is this not good value? As you will see from the RSPB report, an independent survey commissioned by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation showed that only 1-2% of young Pheasants are taken by birds of prey (not only Buzzards). Many more are lost from other causes, including being killed on the road. It is already known that losses to predators can be reduced thorough methods such as providing cover. Destroying nests and trapping and removing birds are problematic for many reasons not least that both are currently illegal. Changing the law will only give comfort and encouragement to those irresponsibble members of the industry who currently illegally control predators.
More importantly we already know the measures are unlikely to work. Remove a Buzzard from its territory and it will quickly be replaced. Look at the infamous case of the Kempton estate in Shropshre. In 2007 two gamekeepers were convicted of, amongst other things, killing over 100 Buzzards in a six month period. As soon as one was killed another moved in to take its place.
I’ve already written to my MP (See below if you want to crib the text). Lets try and stop this waste of money.
I am writing to you concerning recent reports of DEFRA’s plans to control Buzzard numbers. I have seen the response on DEFRA’s website that this is not a cull, but a research project to look at ways of controlling numbers in areas where there is a problem with Buzzards taking young Pheasants. However I am not convinced by their response and would very much like to understand their reasoning.
I am sure you are aware that Pheasants are not native to the UK. Buzzards on the other hand are a native species and are only just beginning to recover from decades of persecution and the effects of pesticides. An independent report for the British Association for Shooting & Conservation showed that only only 1-2% of young Pheasants are taken by birds of prey (plural – not just Buzzards) – a minute number compared to those lost from other causes such as disease, not to mention the large numbers killed on the roads.
It is already known that there are methods that can minimise losses such as providing more cover. The destruction of nests and trapping and removal of birds being proposed are not sensible measures. Both are illegal under current legislation and it already known that if a Buzzard is removed from a territory another will soon take its place.
Given the current state of knowledge (of non-interventionist control measures, the repopulation issue, etc) I would be grateful if you would ask the Minister:
1. On what evidence her Department has decided that there is a serious problem to be investigated; and
2. Why, in times of austerity, the expenditure of £400,000 is felt to be a good use of taxpayers money when there are so many other conservation issues where such a sum could make a real impact.
Birds of prey in England are already under pressure from illegal persecution and pressures of development. To endanger a conservation success story and to set such a precedent which would also give comfort if not actual encouragement to the irresponsible members of the game industry would seem perverse.